The deeply personal revelation by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty about his skin condition was meant to douse months of rumours and speculation about his health.
Finance is one of my “files”, so I see a lot of Jim Flaherty. Last spring, I had noticed he gained some weight, and he looked tired. I didn’t think much of it – a stressful job with hectic travel schedule probably doesn’t allow one to eat healthy or sleep regularly – and it was around the time of Budget 2012.
Fast forward to autumn that year. Flaherty met met with private sector economists at the finance building in Ottawa and later took questions from reporters. While his answers were concise, his voice was raspy, his eyes seemed glazed. But what I specifically recall from that day – how he lingered at the podium after the scrum was over and seemed somewhat disoriented.
I think that’s when the rumour mill launched into overdrive.
Later that day, I made several inquiries to my contacts at Finance, MPs and political staff who know him well. They all noticed the same thing but were at a loss to explain.
Flaherty held many news conferences since then. At one of them, a reporter did ask about his visible physical changes, but Flaherty didn’t answer and walked away.
His condition appeared to worsen in late November. Perhaps his medication side-effects explains why he teared up during a press conference.
So with no answers, the mystery continued. Many wondered if his ailing health was somehow connected to why he missed a key budget vote in early December.
Just last week, when Flaherty was clutching his stomach while answering questions in the House, we all knew something was terribly wrong.
I suspect that’s when Flaherty’s new communications director concluded the news had to get out there.
I’ve been asked many times why I – or the 100’s of other Parliament Hill reporters – didn’t press Flaherty to disclose his health condition sooner. After all, some argue, Flaherty holds a powerful role within government, and is in public life.
Let me answer this way: I did inquire. Many times. I had been told Flaherty had visible lesions on his arms and neck. It was obvious there was a serous health issue. But the deeply personal disclosure had to come straight from Jim Flaherty. My colleague Don Martin explains further in his excellent column.